Leon Trotsky

The Questions of Wendelin Thomas

(July 1937)

Written: 6 July 1937.
Published: Socialist Appeal, Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 2, 21 August 1937, p. 3.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The following letter was written in reply to questions put to the author by Wendelin Thomas, who argued for the view that there was a basic identity between Bolshevism and Stalinism, as shown by Lenin’s attitude towards opponents like the Mensheviks, the Kronstadt insurgents and the independent Makhno bands in the Ukraine during the Civil War. Thomas is a former Communist deputy of the German Reichstag and now a member of the International Commission investigating the Moscow Trials.Ed.

Esteemed Comrade:

I do not think that the questions which you asked me have a direct relationship to the investigations of the New York Commission and can have an influence on its conclusions. Nevertheless I am fully prepared to reply to your questions in order to acquaint with my actual views all those who are interested in them.

“End Justifies Means”

Like many others, you see the source of evil in the principle: “The end justifies the means”.

This principle is in itself very abstract and rationalistic. It permits most varied interpretations. But I am prepared to take upon myself the defense of this formula – from the materialistic and dialectical viewpoint. Yes, I consider that there are no means that are good or bad in themselves or in connection with some absolute supra-historical principle. Those means that lead to the raising of the power of man over nature and the liquidation of the power of man over man are good. In this broad historical sense the means can only be justified by the end.

Does not this mean, however, that falsehood, treachery, betrayal are permissible and justified if they lead to “the end”? All depends on the nature of the aim. If the aim is the liberation of mankind then falsehood, betrayal, and treachery can in no wise be appropriate means. The Epicureans were accused by their opponents of sinking to the ideals of a pig when they advocated “happiness”. To which the Epicureans, not without foundation, replied: that their opponents understand happiness ... in a piggish way.

You make reference to Lenin’s words that a revolutionary party has the “right” to make its opponents hated and despised in the eyes of the masses. In these words you see a principled defense of amoralism. You forget, however, to point out where, in which political camp are the representatives of lofty morals. My observations tell me that political struggle in general utilizes widely exaggeration, distortion, falsehood and slander. The revolutionists are always the most slandered: in their time Marx, Engels and their friends; later – the Bolsheviks, Karl Liebknecht and Eosa Luxemburg; at the present time – the Trotskyists. The hatred of the possessors toward the revolution; the dull conservatism of the petty bourgeoisie, the conceit and superciliousness of the intellectuals; the material interests of the labor bureaucrats – all these factors combine in the hounding of the revolutionary Marxist. At the same time the Messrs. Slanderers do not forget to be indignant at the amoralism of the Marxists. This hypocritical indignation is nothing but a weapon of the class struggle.

Lenin’s Position

In the words quoted by you, Lenin merely wanted to say that he no longer considers the Mensheviks proletarian fighters and that he makes it his task to make hateful in the eyes of the workers. Lenin expressed his thought with his characteristic passion and opened the possibilities for ambiguous and unworthy interpretations. But on the basis of the complete works of Lenin and his life’s work I declare that this irreconcilable fighter was a most loyal opponent, for despite all exaggerations and extremes he always strove to tell the masses what is. The struggle of the reformists against Lenin, on the contrary, was thoroughly penetrated with hypocrisy, falsehood, trickery and forgeries under the cover of universal truths.

Your evaluation of the Kronstadt uprising of 1921. is basically incorrect. The best, most sacrificing sailors were completely withdrawn from Kronstadt and played an important role at the fronts and in the local Soviets throughout the country. What remained was the gray mass with big pretensions (“We are from Kronstadt”), but without political education and unprepared for revolutionary sacrifice. The country was starving. The Kronstadters demanded privileges. The uprising was dictated by a desire to get privileged food rations. The sailors had cannon and battleships. All the reactionary elements, in Russia as well as abroad, immediately seized upon this uprising. The white émigrés demanded aid for the insurrectionists. The victory of this uprising could bring nothing but a victory of counter-revolution, entirely independent of the ideas the sailors had in their heads. But the ideas themselves were deeply reactionary. They reflected the hostility of the backward peasantry to the worker, the conceit of the soldier or sailor in relation to the “civilian” Petersburg, the hatred of the petty bourgeois for revolutionary discipline. The movement therefore had a counter-revolutionary character and since the insurgents took possession of the arms in the forts they could only be crushed with the aid of arms.

No less erroneous is your estimate of Makhno. In himself he was a mixture of fanatic and adventurer. He became the concentration of the very tendencies which brought about the Kronstadt uprising. The cavalry in general is the most reactionary part of the army. The equestrian despises the pedestrian. Makhno created a cavalry of peasants who supplied their own horses. These were not downtrodden village poor whom the October Revolution first awakened, but the strong and well-fed peasants who were afraid of losing what they had. The anarchist ideas of Makhno (the ignoring of the State, non-recognition of the central power) corresponded to the spirit of this kulak cavalry as nothing else could. I should add that the hatred of the city and the city worker on the part of the followers of Makhno was complemented by a militant anti-Semitism. At the very time when we were carrying on life and death struggle against Denikin. and Wrangel, the Makhnovists, attempted to carry on an independent policy. Straining at the bit, the petty bourgeois (kulak), thought he could dictate his contradictory views to the capitalists on the one hand and to the workers on the other. This kulak was armed, we had to disarm him. This is precisely what we did.

Stalin and the Bolsheviks

Your attempt to conclude that Stalin’s forgeries flow from the “amoralism” of the Bolsheviks is basically false. In the period when the revolution fought for the liberation of the oppressed masses it called everything by its right name and was in no need of forgeries. The system of falsifications flows from the fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy fights for the privileges of the minority and is compelled to conceal and mask its real aims. Instead of seeking for an explanation in the material conditions of historical development, you create the theory of “the original sin”, which fits the church but not the socialist republic.

Coyoacan, July, 6, 1937

Respectfully yours,
L. Trotsky

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Last updated on: 21 November 2014